Tech giants need to place higher value on professional journalism, says Marcelo Rech, World Editors Forum President

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Marcelo Rech, World Editors Forum President

Never in recent history, have not just freedom of expression, but the expression of truth, been under such threat on a global scale, warned World Editors Forum President Marcelo Rech at a UNESCO colloquium in Paris on Journalism Under Fire. To get through the current crisis, tech companies need to recognise and value professional journalism above other content.

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“The question today is not just why and how professional journalism is being pushed to the shoulder of the chaotic stream of information and disinformation. The main issues we are dealing with are the consequences of the weakening of journalism and the toxic side effects that poison societies around the world.

We must now also speak of risks of systemic economic crisis and lethal conflicts between peoples and nations.

Until recently professional journalism, in one way or another, has been the mediator between reality and falsehood. But we are now potentially at the mercy of alternative facts and version-makers.

Three factors make up this perfect storm:

  •  The disbelief of journalism as an institution in the service of the public interest. We are far from perfect, but the animosity is stimulated by a combination of groups opposed to independent journalistic coverage. Many of them are associated with charlatans who, for political or economic purposes, claim to be the heralds of their own truth;
  • The echo chambers of social nets. The elimination of dissenting thinking leads to a growing radicalization, intolerance and contempt for a journalism that hears different voices and versions about the same fact.
  • Finally, we have the economic weakening of professional media, as a direct result of the draining of resources by the digital giants. Without a new economic model, it is going to be even harder to sustain professional journalism with the so needed quality, independence, plurality and capacity of investigation.

To strive for a solution, we also know we must do a better job.

Last year, the World Editors Forum asked newsrooms all over the world to embrace five principles for next level journalism. Basically, in opposition to fake news and echo chambers, professional journalists have to become 24/7 certifiers of the reality around us.

In great extension, our task is to be the ISO 9000 on information: we must confront versions and provide certificates of origin as public guarantors of what is true and what is not.

Truth is the scarcest good in this new and scary world. But truth is exactly the product good newsrooms manufacture. That is why we start to see some signs of hope: for instance, the growing number of subscribers and audience in some US news vehicles. We must consider that this is still a very particular situation, with its own temperature and pressure.

But is also clear that the new and huge digital distribution platforms will not flourish in such a contaminated news environment.

Both professional journalism and digital giants will only survive if they are truly complementary, and not as we see it today, with all sorts of digital aberrations that climb to the top of social networks.

If there is a sincere and concrete recognition of professional journalism by digital giants, with the prevalence of professional information above all other content, then the signs of hope can become a worldwide reality. Otherwise, the United Nations and mankind will have a long road of trouble and crisis ahead.”

This is the text of a speech delivered by Marcelo Rech in Paris on 23 March at a UNESCO colloquium, Journalism Under Fire: Challenges Of Our Times.